When will the US stop paying Israel to annex the West Bank?

The recent Israeli election clipped Netanyahu’s wings, but there is little doubt he will be the next Israeli prime minister. Who will be his coalition partner is yet to be decided, but it could be the extreme right wing Jewish Home party, whose avowed intent is to bring about the complete annexation of the West Bank. The discussions in the coming months are not going to be about a two state solution or even a one state solution. Israel has no interest in discussing anything with anyone whatever the make-up of the coalition.

Israel’s policy of ‘creeping annexation’ is effectively funded by the United States, and over the last four years, has gone unchallenged by their paymasters. Britain has been shamefully silent too, but that’s to be expected as most of our politicians are in the pay of Zionist lobby ‘benefactors’: their silence has been bought. Israel thinks it can do what it likes, and its doing just that. Its aim is simple, the complete annexation of the West Bank.

The only way this travesty can be stopped is for the US to pull the plug on the billions of dollars it gives to Israel each year. Is that going to happen? The signs are not good, but Obama, and a growing number of Americans, are getting a tad browned off by Israel’s antics and blatant disrespect for their benefactor.

It’s an open secret that Obama can’t stand Netanyahu and maybe, just maybe Netanyahu has overplayed his hand. The election showed that Obama needn’t have worried quite as much as he did about the Jewish vote, and despite millions of Israeli lobby dollars going to Netanyahu’s favourite party, the Republicans, it didn’t do them much good.

However, not to be seen to have been outdone, the Israeli lobby want to demonstrate to all, and Obama in particular, that they have real muscle and can control events if they so wish, which is why they are trying to trash the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defence. Interesting times! Here is A J Rosenberg’s take on events in Washington.

US interests are being damaged by Israel’s current shift to the extreme Right, so why not nominate Chuck Hagel?

Thus far, President Barack Obama is sitting out the January 22 Israeli elections. There is no indication about who he hopes to see as the next Israeli prime minister. His noninterference, even disinterest, is not surprising except when contrasted with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s open preference for the Republicans in the US election two months ago. One might have thought that a little payback would be in order.

One reason for Obama’s apparent indifference may be that there is almost no possibility that Netanyahu will not be the next prime minister. The only question is whether Netanyahu’s next government will be as far right (and pro-settlement expansion) as his current government or much farther to the right.

To put the Israeli election in US terms, it is as if the choice two months ago was between the right-wing Republican Party and the ultra-right-wing Tea Party with the Democrats merely hoping to win enough support to compose a credible opposition or to get a cabinet post.

But that is the case in Israel where Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Likud-Beytenu coalition is being challenged by a new party to its right, the Jewish Home party. The Jewish Home party is led by 40-year-old Naftali Bennett who is running on an openly annexationist platform, in contrast to Netanyahu and Lieberman who, although also expansionist, occasionally pay lip service to the idea of reaching a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.

Less attention to the Israeli election

Bennett favours the immediate annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank immediately which would make the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. His 60 percent plan is rejected by other leading figures in his party – even more radical – who favour a 100 percent annexation just to make sure.

Needless to say, the new party is dominated by ultra-nationalist settlers and religious fanatics who, in addition to supporting land grabs, vehemently oppose equal rights for gays, women, Arabs and non-Jews in general. Nonetheless, Jewish Home is the first choice of Israelis under 30, who are abandoning the old right-wing parties for the extreme right.

Perhaps the craziest thing is that the new ultra-right party is rising as the Netanyahu/Lieberman party has shifted rightward, too. Gone are the more pragmatic Likud types like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor. In their place are the likes of Moshe Feiglin who told the Atlantic‘s Jeff Goldberg:

“Why should non-Jews have a say in the policy of a Jewish state?” Feiglin said to me. “For two thousand years, Jews dreamed of a Jewish state, not a democratic state. Democracy should serve the values of the state, not destroy them.” In any case, Feiglin said, “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers… The Arab destroys everything he touches.”

Feiglin isn’t alone either. Take a look at this list of rightist extremists who top the Netanyahu-Lieberman list, yet who are seen as too moderate for voters drawn to the up and coming new party.

The interesting thing is that few Americans are paying any attention to the Israeli election, a sign that even the pro-Israel community is losing interest in and hope for Israel. A country that once was a source of joy for so many Americans is now a source of pain; the prevailing attitude seems to be to just look away and hope that things will improve by the next time they pay attention.

But then it doesn’t really matter what most Americans think or don’t think about what is happening in Israel. Except for one.

The President of the United States matters very much. Every Israeli is aware that without the support of President Obama, Israel would be in desperate straits. The United States provides Israel with billions of dollars of aid a year, aid which is used to purchase the weapon systems that sustains Israel’s “military edge” which enables it to both maintain the occupation and defend itself.

That aid also provides Israel with the economic cushion it needs to preserve its immunity to the recession that has afflicted most of the world. It is the President of the United States who decides whether to stand (virtually alone) with Israel at the United Nations, using our veto to block any resolution that Israel opposes. It is the President who has adopted Israel’s position on Iranian nuclear development as our own, leading the effort to punish Iran with sanctions and reiterating Israeli threats that there will be war if Iran develops nuclear weapons (despite the fact that Israel is said to have some 200 warheads).

Dependent on the US President 

In short, Israel is almost entirely dependent on the President of the United States. As for Congress, it matters too but, on all foreign policy matters, it is the President who leads. That is how the United States Constitution works. It is the President who defends the national interest abroad.

And the fact is that US interests are being damaged by Israel’s current course. Whether we like it or not, the United States is viewed as linked at the hip with Israel. An Israeli government dominated by ultra-nationalists, racists and fascists impacts on our standing throughout the world. After all, the world (and not just the Muslim world) understands that we are Israel’s enabler.

That is why it is time for President Obama to send a clear message to Israel by nominating former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defence. That is not because Hagel is anti-Israel. He isn’t.

The reason to nominate Hagel, in addition to his qualifications for the post, is that the Israel lobby has decided to demonstrate its clout by preventing his nomination. Like the National Rifle Association, the lobby has an intense need to demonstrate that it’s in charge. It does not like Hagel, so he will not get the post. Successfully blocking him will demonstrate that no matter how far Israel lurches toward the right, no matter how many settlements are built, no many how many Palestinians are thrown off their land or just abused, the United States will simply grin and bear it.

Obama could, of course, issue a statement or deliver a speech re-stating US policy on settlements, a Palestinian state, and the need for peace. But the sad fact is that no one believes that this administration will ever back up its fine words on Israel and Palestine with deeds, not after the past four years of giving in to Netanyahu over and over again. There is only one way to send a message to Israel that will be heard: It will be by nominating Hagel. It is Israel and the lobby that created the Hagel issue. Why not use it to America’s advantage? And Israel’s too. After all, it is Israel not the United States that seems to be going over a cliff and, sadly, it is not just fiscal.

Mr President, nominate Hagel. And fight for his confirmation. As for the lobby, let it do what it wants. Out in the open, for a change.

MJ Rosenberg served as a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow with Media Matters Action Network and prior to that worked on Capitol Hill for various Democratic members of the House and Senate for 15 years. He was also a Clinton political appointee at USAID.



The inevitable state of Israel and Palestine

The US is seriously rattled by the Palestinian application for UN ‘non-member observer status’ which is due to be presented to the General Assembly on 29th November. Already accepted as a member of Unesco, their new status would allow the Palestinians to apply for membership of other UN organisations – and the ICC. This would open up the opportunity for the Palestinians to challenge the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in court.

This would undoubtedly be an embarrassment for the US, but that is not the real reason for their unhappiness. The truth is surely that the US no longer believes in a two state solution or believes that a two state solution will ever be possible. It is dead and buried.

This year more building contracts to build illegal settlements have been let in the Occupied Territories than in the previous three years.  The US has remained silent. And the peace process? Never mentioned. The dilemma now facing the US is how to announce a change in policy without lighting the fuse to massive unrest in the Middle East and how to convince a right wing Israeli government that there can never be Jewish state.

The single state solution is the only way forward, but making that a reality is going to be a long and hard road.

Maz Hussein’s article ‘The inevitable state of Israel and Palestine’

Buried within the news of the merger of Israel’s two major right-wing political parties, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, was a subtext which has as yet not registered in popular discourse on the Middle East – the final death of the “peace process” between the Israelis and Palestinians and of the prospect of two separate states existing between them.

Despite the presence of a highly conciliatory, and by many accounts obsequious, Palestinian partner in President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli leadership has moved farther away from the prospect of a two-state solution than at any time in recent memory and has firmly demonstrated their practical abandonment of the framework for peaceful separation outlined in the Oslo Accords.

The Israeli left-wing which favoured a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians is nearly dead and buried – the formation of Likud and Yisrael Beitenu’s popular right-wing governing party is reflective of the fact that the centre of gravity in Israeli politics has been pushed so far to the right that mainstream foreign policy debates regarding the Palestinians today focus more upon deciding on appropriate means of violently confronting them rather than upon drafting terms of a peace accord.

Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli leader who came closer than any in history to delivering the peace treaty, which dovish Israelis have sought for decades, was murdered in a hail of bullets by a right-wing settler extremist, and today the ethno-nationalist agenda of his killer has formally ascended to the heights of power in the country.

Once considered to be dangerous and intractable extremists, Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beitenu have today formally taken their place within Israel’s legitimate political mainstream, while the segment of society which Rabin represented – that which was willing to make serious concessions to create two separate, sustainable and independent countries, has been pushed to the remote, irrelevant margins of Israeli political life.

In its place is a political majority which is in practice committed to the creation of a legally unprecedented Greater Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people, a position which observably exists today with the accelerating pace of settlement expansion but which has not been formally acknowledged due to the political expediency of maintaining the façade of an ongoing “peace process”.

Among Israel’s international supporters, suppression of dissent towards this fraught trajectory has led to boycotts and fierce attacks against self-described “liberal Zionists” for merely attempting to bring Israeli policy in line with official rhetoric on the Palestinian issue, a sign of how far rhetoric has diverged from actual policy intentions.

In the long-term, this set of circumstances can ultimately only lead to one of two things – the creation of a formalised system of unequal separation where Palestinians live in isolated cantonments without basic rights and freedoms or the creation of a bi-national state with equal rights for all citizens regardless of religion and ethnicity.

Supporters of Israel today characterise, with some degree of justice, the label of “Apartheid” as being hyperbolic and inaccurate. However, if Palestinians are given neither equal rights within Israel nor a viable state of their own, this label will become undeniably accurate – and the latter outcome appears to have become an impossibility given changing political mores within the country.

For Israel, a relatively small, young and regionally isolated country reliant upon international support to maintain its legitimacy today, there increasingly appears to be only one viable and sustainable choice available on its horizon – a single democratic state with full equality for all its inhabitants.

The end of ‘two states for two peoples’

The Oslo Peace Accords which created the Palestinian Authority and was intended to be the first step towards a future final-status agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is today viewed by many on both sides as a disingenuous charade cynically utilised to maintain the status quo.

The prospect of a peaceful settlement which would leave both parties with viable, separate states and put an end to decades of vicious conflict – a prospect which seemed so tantalisingly close in the early 90s when it was negotiated – appears today to have been nothing but a cruel mirage.

The Israelis and Palestinians have come face-to-face in several bloody confrontations in the intervening years and state-sanctioned illegal settlement construction is today increasing at a rate unseen in years.

The creation of “facts on the ground” through settlement-building coupled with vehement opposition to any attempt by Palestinians to seek international recognition of their future state is indicative of Israel’s fundamental opposition to the prospect of a two-state solution despite its continued protestations to the contrary.

Perhaps, the most damningly explicit indictment of the Oslo formula for a peace came in the form of the “Palestine Papers“; the thousands of internal documents leaked to the media on the details of Israeli-Palestinian talks over the past decade.

Within them was revealed the true nature of the “negotiations” which for years had purportedly been continuing with the good faith intention of creating two states for two peoples; a shambolic process in which Palestinian negotiators expressed a near-fawning willingness to cede upon almost every Israeli demand but yet were repeatedly rebuffed by their negotiating partners.

Among the historic and unprecedented concessions revealed to have been repeatedly offered to Israel by the Palestinian Authority negotiators were disavowals of claims to the “right of return” of refugees and of claims upon illegal settlements built in the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods intended to make up part of a future Palestinian capitol.

Perhaps most tellingly was the utterly supine attitude displayed by Palestinian leaders – a far cry from the incorrigible militancy portrayed by the Israeli government as the main barrier to a peaceful settlement.

As reported in the leaked documents, when former Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei mildly protested the refusal by Israel to cede the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumin, the sharp rebuke he received was that “then he would not have a state!” – an outcome which seems all but assured today despite the official Israeli position that a two-state solution is the only possible resolution to the conflict.

Indeed this past week, the Israeli government formally threatened to end Oslo and with it the Palestinian Authority for the transgression of attempting to seek non-member observer status at the United Nations.

The incongruence between Israel’s claim to be fighting for two-states while simultaneously doing everything in its power to either ignore or undermine any move towards such an outcome is indicative of its true present aspirations – and in the long-term of the inevitability of a one-state solution.

Maintaining international viability

Contrary to popular perception that Israel maintains its support from the United States and other allies simply due to skillful lobbying or economic ties, there is abundant evidence that international support for Israel rests upon the belief that it holds shared values regarding democracy and human rights with Western democracies.

Accepting this fact and recognising the exponentially increased diplomatic costs to the US and other countries would incur to maintain essential support to a future state of Israel which abandons democratic values, it can be clearly seen that the trajectory which the Israeli political mainstream is taking the country is one that will lead it to unprecedented isolation and worldwide opprobrium.

Attempting to impose an Apartheid-style solution upon the Palestinians, the natural outcome of the abandonment by the political class of the two-state formula, would turn Israel into an international pariah.

At such a point, returning to a two-state solution would be impossible and the only avenue back into the global mainstream would be through dismantling the system of de facto legal and military separation and recognising Palestinians as full citizens within Israel.

For Israel, a country dependent in large part upon international patronage, maintaining support from foreign benefactors whose help is contingent upon the existence of a pretence of democracy is a vital national interest.

In the scenario which its leaders have created for the country, the zero-sum option of the future appears increasingly likely to be either unsustainable global isolation or an embrace of equal rights for both Palestinians and Israelis within one state.

The fight for equality

Today, Palestinians and their leadership are faced with a clear choice: either continue to perpetrate the charade of the non-existent peace process for the benefit of their occupiers or formally begin the fight for equal rights within a shared state of Israel.

In a situation which even its own leaders appear to recognise, the Palestinian Authority has become nothing more than a de facto contractor for the Israeli occupation, and gradual usurpation, of the land which was intended to have one day become Palestine.

The vision of “two states for two peoples”, bravely articulated by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat before an extremist settler ended the life of the former, is dead and gone. Its perpetuation in the public sphere today is done solely in order to maintain a system of inequality and oppression by paying lip service to a future reward upon which no will exists to deliver, and which has in practical terms has become impossible to achieve.

A future state of enforced separation and racial inequality; the inexorable trajectory of today’s Israeli political mainstream, will ultimately serve no one and its maintenance will not be lastingly possible in the face of international censure.

An Israel in which the rights of all are respected regardless of race or religion is the only solution which will deliver peace and stability to the present-day inhabitants of this land, and when presented with the alternative represents the only solution capable of creating an Israeli state which is both secure and viable in the long-term.

Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst focused on issues related to Middle Eastern politics.




Drugs! By their inaction politicians are leading us all to a very bad place

“We are dealing with the darkest of bourgeois taboos. Of all the things on which the world has declared “war” in modern times, self-harming substances must be the daftest. Yet the result has been to destroy millions of lives, expend trillions of dollars, and helplessly corrupt sovereign states, from Afghanistan to Colombia. It is the greatest single failure of modern statecraft. It is the dark ages, and we are still in them”. Simon Jenkins.

There’s one good thing about tough times, bad things surface. Bad things and things politicians want to hide or shuffle onto the back burner. So it is with drugs. As Simon Jenkins so eloquently points out in his article below, our political class want nothing to do with drugs reform. It’s too difficult, they haven’t a clue what to do, and of course, there’s no political dividend.  Instead they’ve christened the mythical crusade “the war on drugs”, and made it seem like one of those ‘all in it together’ causes – which, as we all know are meaningless, and lead nowhere.

The failure of politicians around the world to tackle the drug problem is not only having a huge societal impact, but more importantly, the vast amounts of illicit cash that the drugs trade generates is corrupting states, politicians, policemen and public servants to such a degree that civil society as we know it is under real threat.

And the amount of drugs money laundered each year? Nearly 2 trillion dollars which is about 3% of world GDP. The amounts of money are so huge they’re almost unimaginable, and it’s all in the wrong hands. The power of these trillions of dollars is a very real threat to you and me, and the democracy we hold dear.  By their inaction and unwillingness to grasp the nettle, our fallible, ineffective, and frankly, stupid politicians, are leading us to a very bad place.

Here is Simon Jenkin’s article:

Imagine the Afghan war had run for the past 40 years. Imagine 2,000 deaths a year. The enemy remains 400,000-strong, despite 40,000 being taken prisoner annually. The war costs £1bn a month. Casualties vary from time to time, but there is no hope of victory. Were that the case, I suggest public opinion might be exasperated. Parliament might debate the matter. Ministers might review policy. Yet such is Britain’s fatuously entitled “war on drugs”. Each year governments re-legislate their “war on terror”, despite the minimal threat, but reject any need to revise the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. They refuse to see if it is working, and do nothing but waste public money.

Home secretaries trumpet idiotic “drug seizures”. They pass “awareness” budgets, arrest and imprison thousands of citizens for drug possession and sale. The war has failed. But it continues to immiserate countless families and wreck countless lives. It is stupid, knee-jerk British government at its worst.

There is now a small industry of liberals who spend their time saying so. I am probably one of them, having wasted hours on commissions, inquiries, conferences and lobbies. Worthy charities dole out money for fact-finding trips to California, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands, all with lessons, none of which we learn. The British go abroad, as always, to have their prejudices confirmed. If we were investigating terrorism, the death rate would have ministers racing to the Commons in panic. As it is, the victims of the 1971 act die un-atoned.

I sat on Lady Runciman’s Police Foundation inquiry in 2000 which, like her “Runciman Two” this week, reiterated that criminal law had failed to end drug use or reduce harm. It suggested we go easy on cannabis possession and concentrate on treatment for hard drugs. Prison was the wrong place for users or abusers. We dodged the question of supply, as does every drugs report, because that involves discussing manufacture, money and retail. Liberal Britain has always had a distaste for trade.

I hesitate to suggest that Runciman Two is a reprint of Runciman One, but after a decade of inaction I wonder what is different. The police have let up on cannabis possession, as in most countries, largely because they know that the law is unenforceable. This week’s report says that government action is immaterial, drug consumption being unaffected by changes in classification, prison sentencing or education. Drug use seems to ebb and flow with price, fashion and, in the case of ecstasy and skunk, perceived harm. None of this stopped the home secretary, Theresa May, beating her chest and howling her rejection of Runciman from the rooftops.

Britain on drugs is where China is on hanging, Saudi Arabia on beating, Russia on censorship and the Taliban on girls’ education. Drugs policy is the last legislative wilderness where “here be dragons”, a hangover from days when abortion and homosexuality were illegal and divorce expensive. It petrified home secretaries of left and right alike, Jack Straw and Jacqui Smith as much as Kenneth Clarke and Theresa May. So scared was Tony Blair that Alastair Campbell had to order the smothering of the 2000 Runciman report.

Most sane politicians – including David Cameron – advocate reform in opposition, and again after leaving power. A phalanx of Latin American ex-presidents are in favour of cocaine legalisation, the so-called “formers”. Yet fear grips the collective brain when in office. The mere word drugs gives every politician the heebie-jeebies and turns libertarians into control freaks.

As Jonathan Haidt has argued in his book The Righteous Mind, political attitudes on most things, certainly drugs, are irrational, rooted in tribe and upbringing. Politicians who stuff their brains with alcohol, nicotine and amphetamines view ecstasy, cannabis and cocaine as dangerous exotics, like the black death or yellow peril, imported from dusky parts to corrupt the young. They shudder at decriminalisation, relying instead on their favourite legislative juju – “sending a message” and washing their hands.

What should be researched is not drugs policy but drugs politics, the hold that taboo has on those in power, and the thrall that rightwing newspapers have over them. This has nothing to do with public opinion, which is now strongly in favour of reform. Most sensible people find the present regime disastrous and want drugs regulated, rather than the wild west that is the urban drug scene today. It is politicians who think “soft on drugs” implies some loss of potency.

Just as few recreations are harmless so are few recreational drugs. To imply otherwise is silly. But the sheer longevity of marijuana use has embedded it in youth culture alongside alcohol. The menace to public health comes from the failure of government to legalise, test and regulate supply, which is what it should do for all narcotics. Over-prescribing of benzodiazepines is now far worse, and more dangerous, than the over-prescribing of heroin in the 1960s, which led to its disastrous banning and proliferation. No one is proposing to ban legal drugs today, so why leave illegal drugs, and their users, to the tender mercy of crooks?

There is no reason in all this. We are dealing with the darkest of bourgeois taboos. Of all the things on which the world has declared “war” in modern times, self-harming substances must be the daftest. Yet the result has been to destroy millions of lives, expend trillions of dollars, and helplessly corrupt sovereign states, from Afghanistan to Colombia. It is the greatest single failure of modern statecraft. It is the dark ages, and we are still in them.



Time for Israel to show an example and give up its nuclear weapons?

Don’t be fooled that Israel thinks that Iran poses a nuclear threat to the so-called Jewish state. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually about the balance of power in the Middle East. He who has the nukes, rules – or at least is perceived to have an upper hand, a state of affairs which, up until now, has suited Israel – and the US.

If Iran were to have nuclear weapons, the whole dynamic in the Middle East would change, and that’s something Israel and the US appear unable to accept. As Kate Hudson points out in her article below, it would also trigger the start of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, a totally pointless and potentially catastrophic outcome.

With sanctions starting to bite in Iran, the US is probably now hoping that they will be the catalyst for regime change. Whether they are or not, those saner heads in Iran need to know that the West has a vision for Iran. A vision which offers it the opportunity to ‘rejoin the fold’, to be included rather than excluded: a vision which will allow it to live in peace with its neighbours – and to exist in a nuclear free Middle East. A nuclear free Middle East? Yes, exactly that.

The time has come for the West to start making noises about a Middle East free from nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapons in Iran, no nuclear weapons in Israel. Could Israel sign up to such proposals? Unlikely? It might seem so right now, but Israel has to have a vision too. It has to transform itself from a belligerent pariah state into something better. It has much to gain by showing an example, but that too may require ‘regime change’.

The following article is by Kate Hudson, general secretary of CND.

As tensions mount in the Middle East, so do the demands for a regional WMD-free zone. Nearly 40 years after such a zone was first proposed on the floor of the United Nations, the need is as urgent as ever. So it’s good news that finally some tentative steps are being made to move forward on outlawing the Middle East’s weapons of mass destruction.

This December, the Finnish government is hosting a conference in Helsinki, on behalf of the UN, with experienced diplomat and politician Jaakko Laajava bringing together the region’s states to discuss this most elusive but necessary goal.
Many will see this proposal as a pipedream, but Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones (NWFZs) are highly successful forms of collective security across large parts of the world. Currently, 115 states and 18 other territories belong to 5 regional treaties, covering a majority of the earth’s surface, including almost the entire southern hemisphere.

The establishment of such a zone in the Middle East was first proposed in 1974 by Iran. In 1990, it was extended by Egypt to include other WMD, reflecting the serious concern around chemical and biological warfare in the region. A resolution on achieving a WMD-free zone was adopted at the 1995 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Subsequently, the 2010 NPT Review Conference identified five steps necessary towards the goal of establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, including convening a regional conference in 2012 and appointing a facilitator.

As this conference draws near (The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s (CND) free international conference, Building towards a nuclear weapons-free Middle East: Civil society input for a new Helsinki process, which draws together anti-nuclear activists from Britain and the Middle East to discuss input and raise the profile of this crucial issue, takes place in London on Saturday, October 13.), not surprisingly, questions over whether it can succeed are surfacing. But the consequences if it should fail are unthinkable.

Regional insecurities

While Israel steps up its rhetoric over Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, it continues to ignore the part its own nuclear weapons play in regional insecurity. Meanwhile, other states have made it clear that if Iran did develop a nuclear weapons capability, they would seek their own.

As one senior Saudi Arabian official in Riyadh said: “We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t. It’s as simple as that… if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.”

Preventative diplomatic action must be taken now to halt nuclear proliferation and ensure the disarmament of WMD within the Middle East. Building support for the UN’s conference not only in both high-level meetings, but also within grassroots movements is crucial.

To this end, CND is holding a free public conference in London this weekend. Drawing speakers from around the Middle East, we are seeking to discuss how civil society can input into and support this process – as Jaakko Laajava has himself requested – and highlight the urgency of action (for more information see here).

Amid escalating tensions between Iran and Israel, both policymakers and the public in the region would do well to look to the African and Latin American examples. They demonstrate how regional security can be far more effectively achieved through co-operative, transparent and rigorously verified security frameworks.

Building genuine security

In the Treaty of Pelindaba (Africa), South Africa set a precedent, becoming the first state with nuclear weapon capabilities to enter into a NWFZ: preferring the long-term benefits of collective security over the totemic status but ultimate insecurity of maintaining a nuclear arsenal.

In the Middle East, the proliferation of WMD has persistently been a strain on diplomacy. In a region where one state is widely acknowledged to have nuclear weapons, four others have at some point violated their safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and another has been found conducting undeclared activities, transparency is key to building trust.

Open discussions about security concerns and weapons capacity will be vital to the success of this zone: and it begins with opening channels of communication which are the building blocks of peace and genuine security.

There are of course significant obstacles to overcome before this conference can succeed, but certainly, the biggest threat to the region would be failure. Failure to move forward in establishing a WMD-free zone will mean that the stakes will remain higher in any potential conflict. And the stakes are always a human cost.

In a document submitted in May to the planning committee of the NPT Review Conference in 2015, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the Arab League sees the Helsinki conference as an important crossroad with regard to its nuclear policies. If realistic and practical steps towards WMD disarmament cannot be agreed upon, then nuclear proliferation will become a dangerous reality across the region. The international community should do all it can to avert this.

NWFZs are fundamental mechanisms for tackling precisely these insecurities and subsequent escalations. The Treaty of Tlatelolco (South America) included two competing treaty members, Argentina and Brazil, both with large nuclear power industries with the capability of developing nuclear weapons. The treaty provided the confidence-building framework and a norm of non-proliferation which defused the potential and perceived need for pursuing nuclear weapons systems.

And it is not unthinkable to suggest that this is a feasible outcome in the Middle East: the landmark co-operation and negotiations which would be essential in establishing a WMD- free zone would be positive for intra-regional relations. And while states may be cautious in their approach, if they believe that this can be a serious framework for peaceful co-existence then of course they would be supportive. Such caution can be gradually turned to confidence, through robust and transparent verification measures, as well as binding mechanisms with teeth.

This Finnish-led UN conference represents a significant moment which we would do well to seize upon. To allow this momentum to falter could well result in a hitherto unseen scale of nuclear proliferation across the region, the implications of which are grim. But if we are to build on this momentum it could represent a significant step towards global disarmament and completely transform security relations within one of the world’s most unstable regions.

Dr Kate Hudson was chair of the UK-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament from 2003 to September 2010, when she became general secretary. She is a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner nationally and internationally.




The impressive Mr Eric Schmidt?

VIDEO: Eric Schmidt is Executive Chairman of big, bad Google no less. He’s not normally the sort of guy you would expect to be preaching revolution. He’s not, but within this conversation he appears to suggest an almost revolutionary change to the way governments operate and the way they deal with ‘vested interests’ (he hasn’t got any, of course!) Reading between the lines, he seems to have very little time for the political class – of any country – and sees their inability to think beyond austerity as a cure for current ills as symptomatic of their moral and creative bankruptcy. (Don’t we all!)
For the likes of Eric Schmidt to be expressing these views so publicly is remarkable – and very welcome. Could his comments be a signal that we are entering a period of fundamental political change where pressure for change stems from the most unlikely of places? It would be nice to think so. Crisis begets change, so maybe. One thing’s for certain, if we are, our current batch of politicians will remain blissfully unaware – until the thirteenth hour.


Will Americans ever feel free to criticise Israel and not worry they are being anti-American?

This is the week of the annual AIPAC  conference in Washington. (AIPAC, America Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobbying  group in the US) Every member of Congress will be there. They have to be, their campaign funds depend upon it. This is the gathering that demonstrates all too clearly – for those who care to look – the power of the Israeli lobby and the total grip that it has on the US Congress.

This is the week when the President of the most powerful country in the world kowtows to its ungrateful ally in the Middle East, and is made to look feeble and foolish by Benjamin Netanyahu, son of a militant Zionist, Arab hater, right wing bully boy, and the man most likely to plunge the world into chaos and economic catastrophe should he attack Iran, which he appears increasingly likely to do.

What is it with Americans? Why do they allow a foreign country to hold such sway over their legislators? What is it with President Obama that he doesn’t tell Netanyahu where to get off?  Does it really all come down to money? The simple answer is ‘yes’. It would be a very brave president that offended the mighty Israeli lobby in an election year, but that is exactly what Obama needs to do.

Netanyahu and his fellow travellers only understand tough talk, and any tough talking needs to be backed up by the threat of ‘adverse consequences’ for US relations with Israel if it were to undertake uncoordinated military action against Iran. Obama needs to make clear that sanctions have to be given time to work and make clear that he will not be pushed around by Netanyahu and his right wing cohorts.

America needs to wake up to the fact that it is being taken for a ride by the current Israeli administration. It must stand up to the Israeli lobby and take back ownership of its Middle East policy. For a country that has been brainwashed to believe that to be anti-Israel is to be anti- American, this is going to be a tough call, but a call that needs to be made – urgently.

It may be an election year Mr President, but the world is relying on you to say what needs to be said.


Fuel prices – mass protest it is then George!

On Friday the price of oil closed at $123 a barrel and the price of petrol on forecourts across Britain reached a record high. With petrol prices on their way too £1.50 a litre, we’ll soon be paying nearly £1 in tax and duty on a litre of petrol. This is absolutely ridiculous.

Britain is now the fuel tax capital of Europe.  Nobody else pays as much tax and duty as we do, and if the Chancellor has his way, we’ll be paying even more, an extra 3p a litre in September.

If we had a booming economy, the cost of fuel wouldn’t be quite so critical. As it is, our economy is on its knees.  Britain has a road based economy. The cost of fuel affects practically everything. What on earth is the sense in increasing the cost of this critical commodity at a time when we should be doing everything to reduce costs, encourage demand and generate growth?  High energy prices hammer growth and stuff demand. Politicians keep mouthing the word ‘growth’ hoping that if they say it often enough the genie will be released from the bottle and it will just ‘happen’. It won’t. And it definitely won’t with fuel prices at their current level.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Israel’s premier, the right wing lunatic Netanyahu, is doing all he can to persuade the US to attack Iran and if they won’t he may decide to do it himself. If that happens the Iranians will close the Straits of Hormuz and we’ll be paying £2 a litre.

High fuel prices feed straight into inflation. Britain’s debt-burdened consumers are not going to be able to take high fuel prices for much longer. There are rumblings about fuel protests. They need to become louder. It seems the only way George Osborne is going to be persuaded to act to reduce the tax and duty on fuel, is to bring the country to a grinding halt.

What do we want? The abolition of VAT on petrol and diesel. The outcome? A reduction in prices and a boost in demand. It could be the one positive thing George Osborne ever does to stimulate growth, but we may have to make him do it.


The Tappin Predicament: careless handling of flawed legislation

Christopher Tappin has been stuck in an El Paso gaol since he was extradited to the US a week ago. Tomorrow he’ll learn if he gets bail or not. Whatever the case, he will probably be unaware of his wife’s brave testimony in front of a House of Commons Select Committee this week. He would have been very proud of her.

Christopher Tappin has been let down by the careless handling of flawed legislation. Whether he is guilty or not, he has not been fairly or properly treated.

It all goes back to 2003 when the Blair government, eager to do all it could to assist George Bush’s ‘war on terror’, amended the extradition legislation. Up until 2003, any country requesting the extradition of a British citizen had to produce prima facie evidence to accompany any request for extradition. This requirement was abolished by the new legislation.

The US made no change to its extradition legislation. The US requires that if the UK requests the extradition of an individual, that request has to be accompanied by evidence of “probable cause”, not as high a requirement as prima facie evidence , but significantly higher than we ask of the US. This is clearly wrong. Had the US had to produce prima facie evidence, there is every likelihood that Christopher Tappin would not have been extradited.

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General said before the last election, “Our extradition laws are a mess. They’re one-sided.  A Tory government will re-write them.”  So far there’s no sign of that happening.  And speaking to MPs earlier this week, Grieve spoke less bluntly, but nevertheless, pointedly:  “I certainly don’t think they [extradition laws] are in the condition that I would ideally like them to be. If we were to start from somewhere, I don’t think we’d have started from the 2003 [Extradition] Act.” I wonder what advice he gave to the Home Secretary?

It is completely unacceptable for a British citizen to be extradited without prima facie evidence of their alleged wrongdoing.

In the circumstances there is absolutely no question, the Home Secretary, Theresa May should not have signed the extradition warrant.  Christopher Tappin and his family are suffering because of the tardiness of our legislators and the Home Secretary’s stupidity, and that’s just not good enough. Time for Mrs May to consider her position? It should be.


Noam Chomsky: The US decline in perspective


This is the second part of Noam Chomsky’s article on the decline of American power.It is fascinating. America’s appetite for imperial domination appears to be as strong as ever, but its ability to maintain that domination is decreasing. What’s frightening are the distortions that America’s appetite has caused – and continues to cause – and the disconnect that exists between policy and people.

As the 21st century unfolds, how are American politicians going to react to the country’s changing circumstances? So many of them appear to live in a cocoon, unaware of the power and persistence of modern day public scrutiny. In future it’s unlikely to be so easy for America, or any other country for that matter, to dodge the searching spotlight of determined inquiry. Increasingly, people in America want to know what is being said and done in their name.

Is it not the case that the ruling elite in America is as concerned about the threat of a functioning democracy at home as it is within countries it seeks to dominate?  Isn’t the influence of public opinion seen as an unwelcome interference?  Isn’t America’s political system, now dysfunctional, disabled by the distortion of money, evidence of this? Interesting times. Do I hear the sound of a distant violin?


Cambridge, MA – In the years of conscious, self-inflicted decline at home, “losses” continued to mount elsewhere. In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanised elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all US military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organisation, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the US and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in US decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as “the backyard”.

Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries – Middle East/North Africa – which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history”, Control of MENA energy reserves would yield “substantial control of the world”, in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor AA Berle. To be sure, if the projections of a century of US energy independence based on North American energy resources turn out to be realistic, the significance of controlling MENA would decline somewhat, though probably not by much: the main concern has always been control more than access. However, the likely consequences to the planet’s equilibrium are so ominous that discussion may be largely an academic exercise.

The Arab Spring, another development of historic importance, might portend at least a partial “loss” of MENA. The US and its allies have tried hard to prevent that outcome – so far, with considerable success. Their policy towards the popular uprisings has kept closely to the standard guidelines: support the forces most amenable to US influence and control. Favoured dictators are supported as long as they can maintain control (as in the major oil states). When that is no longer possible, then discard them and try to restore the old regime as fully as possible (as in Tunisia and Egypt). The general pattern is familiar: Somoza, Marcos, Duvalier, Mobutu, Suharto, and many others. In one case, Libya, the three traditional imperial powers intervened by force to participate in a rebellion to overthrow a mercurial and unreliable dictator, opening the way, it is expected, to more efficient control over Libya’s rich resources (oil primarily, but also water, of particular interest to French corporations), to a possible base for the US Africa Command (so far restricted to Germany), and to the reversal of growing Chinese penetration. As far as policy goes, there have been few surprises.

Crucially, it is important to reduce the threat of functioning democracy, in which popular opinion will significantly influence policy. That again is routine, and quite understandable. A look at the studies of public opinion undertaken by US polling agencies in the MENA countries easily explains the western fear of authentic democracy, in which public opinion will significantly influence policy.


Israel and the Republican Party

Similar considerations carry over directly to the second major concern addressed in the issue of Foreign Affairs cited in part one of this piece: the Israel-Palestine conflict. Fear of democracy could hardly be more clearly exhibited than in this case. In January 2006, an election took place in Palestine, pronounced free and fair by international monitors. The instant reaction of the US (and of course Israel), with Europe following along politely, was to impose harsh penalties on Palestinians for voting the wrong way.

That is no innovation. It is quite in accord with the general and unsurprising principle recognised by mainstream scholarship: the US supports democracy if, and only if, the outcomes accord with its strategic and economic objectives, the rueful conclusion of neo-Reaganite Thomas Carothers, the most careful and respected scholarly analyst of “democracy promotion” initiatives.

More broadly, for 35 years the US has led the rejectionist camp on Israel-Palestine, blocking an international consensus calling for a political settlement in terms too well known to require repetition. The western mantra is that Israel seeks negotiations without preconditions, while the Palestinians refuse. The opposite is more accurate. The US and Israel demand strict preconditions, which are, furthermore, designed to ensure that negotiations will lead either to Palestinian capitulation on crucial issues, or nowhere.

The first precondition is that the negotiations must be supervised by Washington, which makes about as much sense as demanding that Iran supervise the negotiation of Sunni-Shia conflicts in Iraq. Serious negotiations would have to be under the auspices of some neutral party, preferably one that commands some international respect, perhaps Brazil. The negotiations would seek to resolve the conflicts between the two antagonists: the US and Israel on one side, most of the world on the other.

The second precondition is that Israel must be free to expand its illegal settlements in the West Bank. Theoretically, the US opposes these actions, but with a very light tap on the wrist, while continuing to provide economic, diplomatic and military support. When the US does have some limited objections, it very easily bars the actions, as in the case of the E-1 project linking Greater Jerusalem to the 39,000-resident settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, virtually bisecting the West Bank, a very high priority for Israeli planners (across the spectrum), but which raised some objections in Washington, so that Israel has had to resort to devious measures to chip away at the project.

The pretence of opposition reached the level of farce in February 2011 when Obama vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for implementation of official US policy (also adding the uncontroversial observation that the settlements themselves are illegal, quite apart from their expansion). Since that time there has been little talk about ending settlement expansion, which continues, with studied provocation.

Thus, as Israeli and Palestinian representatives prepared to meet in Jordan in January 2011, Israel announced new construction in Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa, West Bank areas that it has declared to be within the greatly expanded area of Jerusalem, annexed, settled, and constructed as Israel’s capital – all in violation of direct Security Council orders. Other moves carry forward the grander design of separating whatever West Bank enclaves will be left to Palestinian administration from the cultural, commercial, political centre of Palestinian life in the former Jerusalem.

It is understandable that Palestinian rights should be marginalised in US policy and discourse. Palestinians have no wealth or power. They offer virtually nothing to US policy concerns; in fact, they have negative value, as a nuisance that stirs up “the Arab street”.

Israel, in contrast, is a valuable ally. It is a rich society with a sophisticated, largely militarised high-tech industry. For decades, it has been a highly valued military and strategic ally, particularly since 1967, when it performed a great service to the US and its Saudi ally by destroying the Nasserite “virus”, establishing the “special relationship” with Washington in the form that has persisted since. It is also a growing centre for US high-tech investment. In fact, high-tech –  particularly military – industries in the two countries are closely linked.

Apart from such elementary considerations of great power politics as these, there are cultural factors that should not be ignored. Christian Zionism in Britain and the US long preceded Jewish Zionism, and has been a significant elite phenomenon with clear policy implications (including the Balfour Declaration, which drew from it). When General Allenby conquered Jerusalem during World War I, he was hailed in the US press as “Richard the Lion-Hearted”, who had at last won the Crusades and driven the pagans out of the Holy Land.

The next step was for the Chosen People to return to the land promised to them by the Lord. Articulating a common elite view, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes described Jewish colonisation of Palestine as an achievement “without comparison in the history of the human race”. Such attitudes find their place easily within the Providentialist doctrines that have been a strong element in popular and elite culture since the country’s origins: the belief that God has a plan for the world, and that the US is carrying it forward under divine guidance, as articulated by a long list of leading figures.

Moreover, evangelical Christianity is a major popular force in the US. Further towards the extremes, End Times evangelical Christianity also has enormous popular outreach, invigorated by the establishment of Israel in 1948, revitalised even more by the conquest of the rest of Palestine in 1967 – all signs that End Times and the Second Coming are approaching.

These forces have become particularly significant since the Reagan years, as the Republicans have abandoned the pretence of being a political party in the traditional sense, while devoting themselves in virtual lockstep uniformity to servicing a tiny percentage of the super-rich and the corporate sector. However, the small constituency that is primarily served by the reconstructed party cannot provide votes, so they have to turn elsewhere.

The only choice is to mobilise tendencies that have always been present, though rarely as an organised political force: primarily nativists trembling in fear and hatred, and religious elements – extremists by international standards if not in the US. One outcome is reverence for alleged Biblical prophecies, hence not only support for Israel and its conquests and expansion, but passionate love for Israel, another core part of the catechism that must be intoned by Republican candidates – with Democrats, again, not too far behind.

These factors aside, it should not be forgotten that the “Anglosphere” – Britain and its offshoots – consists of settler-colonial societies, which rose on the ashes of indigenous populations, suppressed or virtually exterminated. Past practices must have been basically correct, in the US case even ordained by Divine Providence. Accordingly there is often an intuitive sympathy for the children of Israel when they follow a similar course. But primarily, geostrategic and economic interests prevail, and policy is not graven in stone.

The Iranian ‘threat’ and the nuclear issue

Let us turn finally to the third of the leading issues addressed in the establishment journals cited earlier, the “threat of Iran”. Among elites and the political class this is generally taken to be the primary threat to world order – though not among populations. In Europe, polls show that Israel is regarded as the leading threat to peace. In the MENA countries, that status is shared with the US, to the extent that, in Egypt, on the eve of the Tahrir Square uprising, 80 per cent felt that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons. The same polls found that only ten per cent regard Iran as a threat – unlike the ruling dictators, who have their own concerns.

In the United States, before the massive propaganda campaigns of the past few years, a majority of the population agreed with most of the world that, as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to carry out uranium enrichment. And even today, a large majority favours peaceful means for dealing with Iran. There is even strong opposition to military engagement if Iran and Israel are at war. Only a quarter regard Iran as an important concern for the US altogether. But it is not unusual for there to be a gap, often a chasm, dividing public opinion and policy.

Why exactly is Iran regarded as such a colossal threat? The question is rarely discussed, but it is not hard to find a serious answer – though not, as usual, in the fevered pronouncements. The most authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and the intelligence services in their regular reports to Congress on global security. They report that Iran does not pose a military threat. Its military spending is very low, even by the standards of the region – minuscule, of course, in comparison with the US.

Iran has little capacity to deploy force. Its strategic doctrines are defensive, designed to deter invasion long enough for diplomacy to set it. If Iran is developing nuclear weapons capability, they report, that would be part of its deterrence strategy. No serious analyst believes that the ruling clerics are eager to see their country and possessions vaporised, the immediate consequence of their coming even close to initiating a nuclear war. And it is hardly necessary to spell out the reasons why any Iranian leadership would be concerned with deterrence, under existing circumstances.

The regime is doubtless a serious threat to much of its own population – and regrettably, is hardly unique on that score. But the primary threat to the US and Israel is that Iran might deter their free exercise of violence. A further threat is that the Iranians clearly seek to extend their influence to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and beyond as well. Those “illegitimate” acts are called “destabilising” (or worse). In contrast, forceful imposition of US influence halfway around the world contributes to “stability” and order, in accord with traditional doctrine about who owns the world.

It makes very good sense to try to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear weapons states, including the three that have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty – Israel, India and Pakistan – all of which have been assisted in developing nuclear weapons by the US, and are still being assisted by them. It is not impossible to approach that goal by peaceful diplomatic means. One approach, which enjoys overwhelming international support, is to undertake meaningful steps towards establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, including Iran and Israel (and applying as well to US forces deployed there), better still extending to South Asia.

Support for such efforts is so strong that the Obama administration has been compelled to formally agree, but with reservations: crucially, that Israel’s nuclear program must not be placed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Association, and that no state (meaning the US) should be required to release information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel”. Obama also accepts Israel’s position that any such proposal must be conditional on a comprehensive peace settlement, which the US and Israel can continue to delay indefinitely.

This survey comes nowhere near being exhaustive, needless to say. Among major topics not addressed is the shift of US military policy towards the Asia-Pacific region, with new additions to the huge military base system underway right now, in Jeju Island off South Korea and Northwest Australia, all elements of the policy of “containment of China”. Closely related is the issue of US bases in Okinawa, bitterly opposed by the population for many years, and a continual crisis in US-Tokyo-Okinawa relations.

Revealing how little fundamental assumptions have changed, US strategic analysts describe the result of China’s military programs as a “classic ‘security dilemma’, whereby military programs and national strategies deemed defensive by their planners are viewed as threatening by the other side”, writes Paul Godwin of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The security dilemma arises over control of the seas off China’s coasts. The US regards its policies of controlling these waters as “defensive”, while China regards them as threatening; correspondingly, China regards its actions in nearby areas as “defensive” while the US regards them as threatening. No such debate is even imaginable concerning US coastal waters. This “classic security dilemma” makes sense, again, on the assumption that the US has a right to control most of the world, and that US security requires something approaching absolute global control.

While the principles of imperial domination have undergone little change, the capacity to implement them has markedly declined as power has become more broadly distributed in a diversifying world. Consequences are many. It is, however, very important to bear in mind that – unfortunately – none lifts the two dark clouds that hover over all consideration of global order: nuclear war and environmental catastrophe, both literally threatening the decent survival of the species.

Quite the contrary. Both threats are ominous, and increasing.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. His latest books are Making the Future: Occupations, Intervention, Empire, and Resistance, The Essential Chomsky (edited by Anthony Arnove), a collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, Gaza in Crisis, with Ilan Pappé, and Hopes and Prospects, also available as an audiobook. 


Noam Chomsky: ‘Losing’ the world: American decline in perspective


Part 1: US foreign policy ‘experts’ only ever provide an echo chamber for American imperial power. A longer, broader view is necessary

Significant anniversaries are solemnly commemorated – Japan’s attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, for example. Others are ignored, and we can often learn valuable lessons from them about what is likely to lie ahead. Right now, in fact.

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F Kennedy’s decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-second world war period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops.

The prime target was South Vietnam. The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during second world war, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this, Henry Kissinger’s orders were being carried out – “anything that flies on anything that moves” – a call for genocide that is rare in the historical record. Little of this is remembered. Most was scarcely known beyond narrow circles of activists.

When the invasion was launched 50 years ago, concern was so slight that there were few efforts at justification, hardly more than the president’s impassioned plea that “we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence”, and if the conspiracy achieves its ends in Laos and Vietnam, “the gates will be opened wide.”

Elsewhere, he warned further that “the complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history [and] only the strong … can possibly survive,” in this case reflecting on the failure of US aggression and terror to crush Cuban independence.

By the time protest began to mount half a dozen years later, the respected Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall, no dove, forecast that “Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity … is threatened with extinction … [as] … the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.” He was again referring to South Vietnam.

When the war ended eight horrendous years later, mainstream opinion was divided between those who described the war as a “noble cause” that could have been won with more dedication, and at the opposite extreme, the critics, to whom it was “a mistake” that proved too costly. By 1977, President Carter aroused little notice when he explained that we owe Vietnam “no debt” because “the destruction was mutual.”

There are important lessons in all this for today, even apart from another reminder that only the weak and defeated are called to account for their crimes. One lesson is that to understand what is happening, we should attend not only to critical events of the real world, often dismissed from history, but also to what leaders and elite opinion believe, however tinged with fantasy. Another lesson is that alongside the flights of fancy concocted to terrify and mobilize the public (and perhaps believed by some who are trapped in their own rhetoric), there is also geo-strategic planning based on principles that are rational and stable over long periods because they are rooted in stable institutions and their concerns. That is true in the case of Vietnam, as well. I will return to that, only stressing here that the persistent factors in state action are generally well concealed.

The Iraq war is an instructive case. It was marketed to a terrified public on the usual grounds of self-defense against an awesome threat to survival: the “single question”, George W Bush and Tony Blair declared, was whether Saddam Hussein would end his programs of developing weapons of mass destruction. When the single question received the wrong answer, government rhetoric shifted effortlessly to our “yearning for democracy”, and educated opinion duly followed course; all routine.

Later, as the scale of the US defeat in Iraq was becoming difficult to suppress, the government quietly conceded what had been clear all along. In 2007-2008, the administration officially announced that a final settlement must grant the US military bases and the right of combat operations, and must privilege US investors in the rich energy system – demands later reluctantly abandoned in the face of Iraqi resistance. And all well kept from the general population.

Gauging American decline

With such lessons in mind, it is useful to look at what is highlighted in the major journals of policy and opinion today. Let us keep to the most prestigious of the establishment journals, Foreign Affairs. The headline blaring on the cover of the December 2011 issue reads in bold face: “Is America Over?”

The title article calls for “retrenchment” in the “humanitarian missions” abroad that are consuming the country’s wealth, so as to arrest the American decline that is a major theme of international affairs discourse, usually accompanied by the corollary that power is shifting to the East, to China and (maybe) India.

The lead articles are on Israel-Palestine. The first, by two high Israeli officials, is entitled “The Problem is Palestinian Rejection”: the conflict cannot be resolved because Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – thereby conforming to standard diplomatic practice: states are recognized, but not privileged sectors within them. The demand is hardly more than a new device to deter the threat of political settlement that would undermine Israel’s expansionist goals.

The opposing position, defended by an American professor, is entitled“The Problem Is the Occupation.” The subtitle reads “How the Occupation is Destroying the Nation.” Which nation? Israel, of course. The paired articles appear under the heading “Israel under Siege”.

The January 2012 issue features yet another call to bomb Iran now, before it is too late. Warning of “the dangers of deterrence”, the author suggests that:

“[S]keptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to US interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease – that is, that the consequences of a US assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.”

Others argue that the costs would be too high, and at the extremes, some even point out that an attack would violate international law – as does the stand of the moderates, who regularly deliver threats of violence, in violation of the UN Charter.

Let us review these dominant concerns in turn.

American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling-class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster. Despite the piteous laments, the US remains the world dominant power by a large margin, and no competitor is in sight, not only in the military dimension, in which, of course, the US reigns supreme.

China and India have recorded rapid (though highly inegalitarian) growth, but remain very poor countries, with enormous internal problems not faced by the West. China is the world’s major manufacturing center, but largely as an assembly plant for the advanced industrial powers on its periphery and for western multinationals. That is likely to change over time. Manufacturing regularly provides the basis for innovation, often breakthroughs, as is now sometimes happening in China. One example that has impressed western specialists is China’s takeover of the growing global solar panel market, not on the basis of cheap labor, but by coordinated planning and, increasingly, innovation.

But the problems China faces are serious. Some are demographic,reviewed in Science, the leading US science weekly. The study shows that mortality sharply decreased in China during the Maoist years, “mainly a result of economic development and improvements in education and health services, especially the public hygiene movement that resulted in a sharp drop in mortality from infectious diseases.” This progress ended with the initiation of the capitalist reforms 30 years ago, and the death rate has since increased.

Furthermore, China’s recent economic growth has relied substantially on a “demographic bonus”, a very large working-age population. “But the window for harvesting this bonus may close soon,” with a “profound impact on development”: “Excess cheap labor supply, which is one of the major factors driving China’s economic miracle, will no longer be available.”

Demography is only one of many serious problems ahead. For India, the problems are far more severe.

Not all prominent voices foresee American decline. Among international media, there is none more serious and responsible than the London Financial Times. It recently devoted a full page to the optimistic expectation that new technology for extracting North American fossil fuels might allow the US to become energy-independent, hence to retain its global hegemony for a century. There is no mention of the kind of world the US would rule in this happy event, but not for lack of evidence.

At about the same time, the International Energy Agency reported that, with rapidly increasing carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, the limit of safety will be reached by 2017, if the world continues on its present course. “The door is closing,” the IEA chief economist said, and very soon it “will be closed forever”.

Shortly before the US Department of Energy reported the most recent carbon dioxide emissions figures, which “jumped by the biggest amount on record” to a level higher than the worst-case scenario anticipated by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That came as no surprise to many scientists, including the MIT program on climate change, which for years has warned that the IPCC predictions are too conservative.

Such critics of the IPCC predictions receive virtually no public attention, unlike the fringe of denialists who are supported by the corporate sector, along with huge propaganda campaigns that have driven Americans off the international spectrum in dismissal of the threats. Business support also translates directly to political power. Denialism is part of the catechism that must be intoned by Republican candidates in the farcical election campaign now in progress, and in Congress, they are powerful enough to abort even efforts to inquire into the effects of global warming, let alone do anything serious about it.

In brief, American decline can perhaps be stemmed if we abandon hope for decent survival – prospects that are all too real, given the balance of forces in the world.

‘Losing’ China and Vietnam

Putting such unpleasant thoughts aside, a close look at American decline shows that China indeed plays a large role, as it has for 60 years. The decline that now elicits such concern is not a recent phenomenon. It traces back to the end of the second world war, when the US had half the world’s wealth and incomparable security and global reach. Planners were naturally well aware of the enormous disparity of power, and intended to keep it that way.

The basic viewpoint was outlined with admirable frankness in a major state paper of 1948 (PPS 23). The author was one of the architects of the “new world order” of the day, the chair of the State Department policy planning staff, the respected statesman and scholar George Kennan, a moderate dove within the planning spectrum. He observed that the central policy goal was to maintain the “position of disparity” that separated our enormous wealth from the poverty of others. To achieve that goal, he advised, “We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization,” and must “deal in straight power concepts”, not “hampered by idealistic slogans” about “altruism and world-benefaction.”

Kennan was referring specifically to Asia, but the observations generalize, with exceptions, for participants in the US-run global system. It was well understood that the “idealistic slogans” were to be displayed prominently when addressing others, including the intellectual classes, who were expected to promulgate them.

The plans that Kennan helped formulate and implement took for granted that the US would control the western hemisphere, the Far East, the former British empire (including the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East), and as much of Eurasia as possible, crucially its commercial and industrial centers. These were not unrealistic objectives, given the distribution of power. But decline set in at once.

In 1949, China declared independence, an event known in Western discourse as “the loss of China” – in the US, with bitter recriminations and conflict over who was responsible for that loss. The terminology is revealing. It is only possible to lose something that one owns. The tacit assumption was that the US owned China, by right, along with most of the rest of the world, much as postwar planners assumed.

The “loss of China” was the first major step in “America’s decline”. It had major policy consequences. One was the immediate decision to support France’s effort to reconquer its former colony of Indochina, so that it, too, would not be “lost”.

Indochina itself was not a major concern, despite claims about its rich resources by President Eisenhower and others. Rather, the concern was the “domino theory”, which is often ridiculed when dominoes don’t fall, but remains a leading principle of policy because it is quite rational. To adopt Henry Kissinger’s version, a region that falls out of control can become a “virus” that will “spread contagion”, inducing others to follow the same path.

In the case of Vietnam, the concern was that the virus of independent development might infect Indonesia, which really does have rich resources. And that might lead Japan – the “superdomino” as it was called by the prominent Asia historian John Dower – to “accommodate” to an independent Asia as its technological and industrial center in a system that would escape the reach of US power. That would mean, in effect, that the US had lost the Pacific phase of the second world war, fought to prevent Japan’s attempt to establish such a new order in Asia.

The way to deal with such a problem is clear: destroy the virus and “inoculate” those who might be infected. In the Vietnam case, the rational choice was to destroy any hope of successful independent development and to impose brutal dictatorships in the surrounding regions. Those tasks were successfully carried out – though history has its own cunning, and something similar to what was feared has since been developing in East Asia, much to Washington’s dismay.

The most important victory of the Indochina wars was in 1965, when a US-backed military coup in Indonesia led by General Suharto carried out massive crimes that were compared by the CIA to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. The “staggering mass slaughter”, as the New York Times described it, was reported accurately across the mainstream, and with unrestrained euphoria.

It was “a gleam of light in Asia”, as the noted liberal commentator James Reston wrote in the Times. The coup ended the threat of democracy by demolishing the mass-based political party of the poor, established a dictatorship that went on to compile one of the worst human rights records in the world, and threw the riches of the country open to western investors. Small wonder that, after many other horrors, including thenear-genocidal invasion of East Timor, Suharto was welcomed by the Clinton administration in 1995 as “our kind of guy”.

Years after the great events of 1965, Kennedy-Johnson national security adviser McGeorge Bundy reflected that it would have been wise to end the Vietnam war at that time, with the “virus” virtually destroyed and the primary domino solidly in place, buttressed by other US-backed dictatorships throughout the region.

Similar procedures have been routinely followed elsewhere. Kissinger was referring specifically to the threat of socialist democracy in Chile. That threat was ended on another forgotten date, what Latin Americans call “the first 9/11”, which in violence and bitter effects far exceeded the 9/11 commemorated in the west. A vicious dictatorship was imposed in Chile, one part of a plague of brutal repression that spread through Latin America, reaching Central America under Reagan. Viruses have aroused deep concern elsewhere as well, including the Middle East, where the threat of secular nationalism has often concerned British and US planners, inducing them to support radical Islamic fundamentalism to counter it.

The concentration of wealth and American decline

Despite such victories, American decline continued. By 1970, US share of world wealth had dropped to about 25%, roughly where it remains, still colossal but far below the end of the second world war. By then, the industrial world was “tripolar”: US-based North America, German-based Europe, and East Asia, already the most dynamic industrial region, at the time Japan-based, but by now including the former Japanese colonies Taiwan and South Korea, and, more recently, China.

At about that time, American decline entered a new phase: conscious self-inflicted decline. From the 1970s, there has been a significant change in the US economy, as planners, private and state, shifted it toward financialization and the offshoring of production, driven in part by the declining rate of profit in domestic manufacturing. These decisions initiated a vicious cycle in which wealth became highly concentrated (dramatically so in the top 0.1% of the population), yielding concentration of political power, hence legislation to carry the cycle further: taxation and other fiscal policies, deregulation, changes in the rules of corporate governance allowing huge gains for executives, and so on.

Meanwhile, for the majority, real wages largely stagnated, and people were able to get by only by sharply increased workloads (far beyond Europe), unsustainable debt, and repeated bubbles since the Reagan years, creating paper wealth that inevitably disappeared when they burst (and the perpetrators were bailed out by the taxpayer). In parallel, the political system has been increasingly shredded as both parties are driven deeper into corporate pockets with the escalating cost of elections – the Republicans to the level of farce, the Democrats (now largely the former “moderate Republicans”) not far behind.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, which has been the major source of reputable data on these developments for years, is entitled Failure by Design. The phrase “by design” is accurate. Other choices were certainly possible. And as the study points out, the “failure” is class-based. There is no failure for the designers. Far from it. Rather, the policies are a failure for the large majority, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movements – and for the country, which has declined and will continue to do so under these policies.

One factor is the offshoring of manufacturing. As the solar panel example mentioned earlier illustrates, manufacturing capacity provides the basis and stimulus for innovation leading to higher stages of sophistication in production, design, and invention. That, too, is being outsourced, not a problem for the “money mandarins” who increasingly design policy, but a serious problem for working people and the middle classes, and a real disaster for the most oppressed, African Americans, who have never escaped the legacy of slavery and its ugly aftermath, and whose meager wealth virtually disappeared after the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, setting off the most recent financial crisis, the worst so far.